Why Doctor Who Works

Why Doctor Who Works

WARNING! This post contains Being Human (UK) spoilers. If you haven’t seen the last two series and don’t want to hear what happened from me, turn around right now. Go home, rent the last one or two available series on Netflix, come back after catching yourself up.

That being said…

We’ve seen it before: major actor in a show leaves for one reason or another, then another one leaves, then it seems like they’re all dropping like flies until there’s an entirely new replacement cast.

As viewers, we try not to begrudge our small-screen heroes their choices, but as we struggle to keep watching, to stay loyal, but it’s just not the same. Ratings start to dwindle faster than the cast changed and next thing we know our beloved show is cancelled. In the blink of an eye it went from a must see to something we look at with a sneer of disgust and grumblings of better days.

The most recent casualty on my watch list was Being Human (UK). For those who haven’t seen the second-to-the-last series, it’s not just Mitchell who dies. Even Annie the Ghost becomes permanently dead! To the writers’ credit, the transition was as smooth as possible. Another trio of werewolf, ghost, and vampire come along, vampire loses both ghost and werewolf companions to love and old age, vampire fills in missing vampire gap with Annie and George. However, to save his daughter, George forces a Change not on the full moon and dies. BAM! Tom is now the resident werewolf. Not to be out-shined, Annie saves the world and is replaced by newly ghostified Alex.

No matter how smooth the transition is, though, we’ve lost everyone. It’s not the same show. There’s not even a way to argue the point. So, how has Doctor Who persevered through fifty years of complete cast changes?

As with all things Doctor Who, it’s because of the Doctor.

Despite the character being played by almost a dozen different actors, he’s still the Doctor. No one has tried to insult viewers’ intelligence by ultimately saying “no, no, no! You’ll like it. It’s the exact same thing!”

Going back to my Being Human example, we viewers were forced to accept these three new characters as being the same thing as the characters we spent years growing to love. It’s almost like the writers said “Look! It’s a werewolf, a vampire, and a ghost. There’s no difference!” Tom was virtually absent until that point, Hal was barely introduced before he took over Mitchell’s position, and Alex had all of two episodes before she stepped into Annie’s incorporeal slippers. There was no way anyone could convince me the show wasn’t going to be drastically altered with that kind of change.

Doctor Who viewers aren’t fed those lies. They are promised nothing beyond the Doctor will be there somewhere and he’ll probably have a companion; of those two, only the first is a guarantee. Oh, and things will change. We viewers may not like it, understand it, or we could absolutely love it or hate it, but they will change and change spectacularly! In a flash of golden sparks. Doctor Who viewers see that Regeneration energy and we hold our breath, wondering what kind of Time Lord the Doctor will be this time. Will the events of this last series make him jaded? Childlike? Will he be old or young? Will he brood or hide it under a grin? And, most importantly, what zany costume will he wear this time?

The reason Doctor Who has lasted so long is built right in to the regeneration abilities of being a Time Lord. The show can and does change drastically every two or so years. It’s never a complete change out, though. The Doctor and the Companion, in the last 7 series (I haven’t seen any Classic Who, so I can’t say for sure about that), have never changed at the same time. Either the Doctor Regenerates, or the Companion leaves. Never both. This keeps the personalities fresh, the stories new feeling, and the audience doesn’t feel jerked around.

These are the reasons why Doctor Who works. There’s no pretense the show will never change, the change makes sense when it happens, and the viewers aren’t lied to by the show writers. This is how one makes a television show last fifty years.

Happy 50th, Doctor Who! Allons-y!

[image: The_Vikkodamus]